Special Report: Who's Watching You Part II
Updated: Thursday, November 7 2013, 10:31 PM EST
People share all sorts of information on their computers with social media, emails and digital trails to various websites.
"I have two children so I shop exclusively online," said Erin Derham, who uses the Internet often.
It's all information that can be easily obtained by the government.
"Every time you buy something online, you see that little drop down box, that says terms and conditions," said consumer protection attorney Sean Soboleski.
Soboleski says people are often unknowingly agreeing to give up their private information.
"In there somewhere, I promise you, if you look in there and read the fine print there's something in there that says the company reserves the right to use your information for certain purposes, which includes disclosure to certain third parties."
Certain third parties could be helping the government by allowing them to snoop on your digital trail. The government can also obtain emails and texts by going directly to providers like Google or AT&T with a subpoena that doesn't require showing probable cause.
"I think they have more access than people want them to have. I know on Facebook there are some people that are very paranoid the government's watching everything they say and post and do," said Solomon Carnock, a student who spends countless hours on the web.
Soboleski says it's part of the protections against terrorism expanded in 2001 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA and the Patriot Act, laws that circumvent privacy rights.
"Under the Constitution, the 4th Amendment says we do have right against unreasonable searches and seizures of our person and property. Okay, when the government goes to say Verizon or some other service provider and gets information from them, they're not getting information from you or your property. They're getting it from a third party that you provided it to," said Soboleski.
A spokesperson for Sheriff Van Duncan says local deputies "do not have the ability to obtain information through the surveillance of electronic equipment and/or devices without a warrant."
The Asheville police Department says "our investigators are using their specialized training/experience and equipment. We have consent, search incident to arrest, probable cause, and search warrants to examine computers and cell phones."
They say each case can be different and are approached with that in mind.
By Frank Fraboni